A Correction on Japanese Film Criticism

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In the course of this blog, I tend to make the assumption that there is essentially no cultural criticism in Japan — i.e., no rated reviews or subjective rankings, just pure information on films, records, television shows, and other products — based on the fact that almost all of the major Japanese music magazines tend to avoid negative comments.

After looking through an issue of Shunkan Bunshun today, I realized that there is a pretty standard film criticism culture in Japan, including the rating of new releases with stars. This information is a much better backdrop to the Star Wars review controversy. Reviewers were upset that the film’s distributor was crossing the line of normally-allowed press freedom by directly editing the articles’ content.

Critical culture is certainly less prevalent in Japan than other places, and I’ve always seen two opposing explanations: a cultural one (the favorite Momus line that Japanese people “don’t like to criticize”) or a market-based one (the dependency of magazines on advertisers and information-suppliers makes criticism difficult). The lack of criticism in the music market and presence of it in the film market seems to support the latter explanation, because these two markets have totally different organizations.

Most music in Japan is created by artists, who work on contract for artist management companies (jimusho), which then license the masters to record labels. The management companies have greater sway with the media (especially television) than the record companies, and media conglomerates are dependent upon these jimusho to provide talent for content. From the beginnings of the music industry, the management companies have made it clear that there is a zero-tolerance policy about scandals, gossip, and bad reviews related to their artists appearing in the publications/productions of media partners, and in this environment, independent criticism of domestic music has been next to impossible, especially when the music magazine market was taken over by large media conglomerates in the 1980s.

The market for foreign films, on the other hand, is much simpler — involving mostly distribution and promotion companies. While there are some distribution companies with great market power, critical discussion of foreign films is much less political than music criticism in that (1) the films are foreign, and therefore, attacking the film is not an attack on Japanese production companies (2) panning one film does not necessarily mean panning all the distributor’s films and future efforts. In the case of Star Wars Episode III, the distributor did have enough market power to enforce a policy of only positive reviews and decided to break its traditional pact with the media to perfectly create a well-managed flow of product information to the consumers. Whether there will be more pressure in the future on film reviewers remains to be seen, but I do think it’s ultimately a question of who holds the greatest market power — the media or the distributors?

Although I am not an expert on the field, Japanese car magazines supposedly hold great sway over consumer tastes and are highly critical of domestic cars. In these market conditions, the automobile industry does not have the ability to pressure the magazines into solely positive reviews.

From these three examples, I find it hard to believe that an aversion to media criticism is a strictly cultural issue. If there was a natural inclination against negativity, why would music, movie, and car magazines all have different levels of critical reviews? Or do music magazine writers just have no interest in describing a record beyond its press release while their brethren in the film world speak their minds?

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

57 Responses

  1. Momus Says:

    I think this is a strong argument, and I’m sure you’re right that the different structures in the car, film and record industries do make a difference to the consumer journalism attached to each one. But I don’t think this discounts the cultural explanation, which can surely co-exist with a structural, economistic-deterministic one.

    Let’s take Rockin’on Japan, the premier Japanese rock magazine, as an example. On their site, ROJ say “while many music magazines published in Japan are often affiliated with record companies or its parental publishing company, all publications by rockin’on inc. remain purely independent of the industry.”

    ROJ reviews records, of course. While these reviews tend to the informative rather than the judgemental, they do carry star ratings out of 5. Hisae tells me that she’s never, in years of reading the magazine, seen a rating lower than 3. She thinks that if a writer really disliked a record that much, the magazine would give it to another writer to review, and that if everyone at the magazine disliked a record, they would give the space to a record they liked rather than run a negative review.

  2. Momus Says:

    Correction: Hisae has never seen ratings less than 2, not 3.

  3. Momus Says:

    I think (continuing with the culturalist explanations) that it’s a very typical Japanese technique not to give any outright rejections, but to insert very subtle disses which can be read only “between the lines”. For instance, my 1998 album was reviewed in Rockin’ On by, I think, Yukiko Inoue, quite a famous critic. She commented on the song “Coming in a Girl’s Mouth”: “It’s really kind of Momus to consider us women worthy of this kind of attention.”

  4. r. Says:

    indeed, ‘oblique’ japanese critiques are great as far as things like coming in a girl’s mouth and stuff goes, but this technique of understatement doesn’t do anyone very much good when it comes to situations where 1) the person encountering this tenor of crit is not japanese (thinking of the increasingly internationalized japan of the coming century) and 2) issues involved are things OTHER than art/music/culture, such as social/govt. reform and human rights issues, where people who are being wronged in some fashion tend not to appreciate having their cases stated in a lowercase, japanese way.

  5. ben Says:

    Gross song title, man.

  6. channing Says:

    Oh, r., nobody cares about that human rights stuff! Let’s get back to the music! Don’t stop the music, we learn by repetition!

  7. alin Says:

    indeed, ‘oblique’ japanese critiques are great … but … doesn’t do anyone very much good when it comes to ….

    ok but why go against the oblique with an erect perpendicular, which by definition is singular and signifies an idealized or a terminal state of things . there’re endless degrees of obliquity and slowly altering those angles is an oblique activity indeed.

  8. marxy Says:

    Don’t stop the music, we learn by repetition!

    Is this a Mae Shi reference? Allright!

  9. marxy Says:

    Correction: Hisae has never seen ratings less than 2, not 3.

    ROJ sells editorial space (by asking for an appropriate ad-buy), and when you directly sell editorial space, there is pressure that all magazine content not piss off the sponsors. So, while “ignoring” a bad record is perhaps a cultural response, it also fits the business model. Actually, I know a ROJ writer and he told me that they sneak in critical reviews sometimes, but they always get a phone call about it from the record company or jimusho. It’s important to remember that companies producing the music are very uptight about getting panned, where outside of Japan, it’s just something to deal with, like the weather.

    If car magazines are outright criticizing and not “toning it down” (which I have yet to prove, but have heard), then the cultural reaction of “ignoring” seems to only happen in market structures where the sponsoring companies demand non-negativity. That’s to say, why do you need a cultural explanation when it’s the last factor in behavior?

    Another point I forgot to mention is that Cyzo – a magazine very critical of the Japanese media and big companies – has only advertising from somewhat outsider or small firms – not because they don’t want large advertising, but because they’ve been “punished” for criticizing by the mainstream advertisers.

  10. r. Says:

    you guys are great for the mae-shi props and all! i’m sure brad is smiling in hollywood right now.

    and i for one really like the music, but everybody knows that since, like it says in the foreword to the penguin history of the 20th century…

    “the arts have shown no implications for change in human life as those of, say, the unravelling of DNA, or the tapping of the energy of the atomic nucleus”

    …i’m sure that the japanese tendancy to use indirect crit of things (not just music) probably matters more when it comes to other japanese issues, ones that nick seems to constanty avoid on his webpage, and ones that david seems aware of, but approaches from an entertainment angle.

  11. marxy Says:

    Another thing to mention is that there is plenty of top-down, sempai-kouhai criticism in Japan. Older, and therefore wiser people have no qualms about telling everyone younger and less noble that they’re wrong. This is much like everywhere else in the world, and if there were some Japanese aversion to all criticism, then superiors would automatically be polite with inferiors, no?

  12. r. Says:

    david said: what he just said

    and i say: good point david! this is revealing of a nuance that nick seems not to have recognized, and one that argues against the point he is trying to make. it might be possible, with continued efforts in this direction, to outline a kind of ‘critique profile’ for japanese culture, with sub-sets for different demographics. this is needed since, for example, the 先輩後輩 phenomenon that you cite doesn’t really gell outside school/work situations (i.e. the フリーター culture, etc.)but here again, we have to be careful. we are talking not about culture in japan (anyone and everyone who is living in this island chain), but japanese culture, a very specific demographic. the interesting thing would be to compare the dynamic/friction between these two kind of critique tendancies, e.g. what happens when non-japanese workers are in a japanese company (i think you and chris have given us some examples already…but i’m wondering why brad hasn’t been forthcoming) or when japanese enter an international company. of course, just for the sake of digestion, all of our findings could be made into a epic, feature-length film called 「ザラストサラリーマン」, made of course by a non-japanese company so that we can avoid this whole issue of censorship of crit. after that, we just sit back and watch the cash roll in.

  13. Sameer Says:

    The katakana joke by the last commenter reminds me of a question that’s been floating around my ol’ cranium:

    Is there any substantial difference between the movies “Mr. Baseball” and “The Last Samurai”?

    [I’m watching Samurai on DVD and am only halfway through, so I don’t know how exactly the plot turns out. But still…]

  14. Sameer Says:

    David says: the cultural reaction of “ignoring” seems to only happen in market structures where the sponsoring companies demand non-negativity.

    I don’t know if this is a very satisfactory model. This statement above is somewhat tautological. Why do some cultural industries exhibit this market structure and some (kuruma) don’t? And why are, say, music magazines in Japan forced to be so dependent on industry support but music magazines in US/UK can enjoy more editorial freedom? Perhaps this blog format makes it hard to write out your full ideas, but I guess I’m looking for an economic model that explains the varying forms of industrial organization.

  15. marxy Says:

    I guess I’m looking for an economic model that explains the varying forms of industrial organization.

    So am I!

    There are all sorts of studies/theories on power in channel management relations, and I think those would explain the differences. Some of it is historical – the Japanese music industry has always been dominated by the artist management companies – but some of it is specific to leverage of the product at hand.

    Car companies probably cannot punish critical media in trying to hold out content, because car magazines can probably get access to cars without the companies’ direct approval. Entertainment magazines, however, need artists for their content, and therefore, suppliers (jimusho) can punish critical magazines by limiting access to the talent. If ROJ stops being on good terms with Stardust Promotion, they can’t interview Orange Range period, nor would they probably be allowed to use photos.

    So with music magazines, it’s mainly an issue of having one part of the media dependent upon talent supply while the other side wants to be independently critical. Maybe it’s odd that American/Western magazines have managed to pull this off at all.

  16. r. Says:

    the last commenter called me “the last commenter” but my name is r.!

  17. marxy Says:

    this is needed since, for example, the 先輩後輩 phenomenon that you cite doesn’t really gell outside school/work situations (i.e. the フリーター culture, etc.)but here again, we have to be careful. we are talking not about culture in japan (anyone and everyone who is living in this island chain), but japanese culture, a very specific demographic.

    Ooh, good point. But I do think that most media criticism happens within an environment of formal Japanese organizations, which do follow that patten of superior-inferior relations.

  18. r. Says:

    david said: what he just said

    and i say: but isn:t that exactly what you/we are trying to embolden one another against? we use “most media criticism” to mean just that…what we believe to be substandard in terms of meeting the criterion of a true freedom of the (music) press.

    a but of a tangent here…of course, derrida does bring up the point that marx (not marxy) mentions, that democracy being what it is ONLY allows for in-house criticism of democracy itself. in other words, you can say bad things about democracy, but we will only listen to you if you have joined the system first, and are trying to perform some kind of self-regulatory critique from the inside. this is one logical fallacy of that system, granted, and we haven’t come up with any solutions thusfar…but we don:t know anything better to do…
    which is one reason why david should be commended for his efforts here. right or wrong (according to momus, mostly wrong…), at least he represents a voice of dissent, which many of the ‘in-house’ members of the music (and cultural) crit machine here in japan don’t even have the freedom to use. again, a paradox: your ‘outsideness’ gives you the freedom to say what you say on these pages, and it at the same time guarantees, no matter how true a point it is that you may be making, it will have ZERO effect on the system itself. thus, in the end, the sum of your efforts here are wholly PRESCRIPTIVE/DIAGNOSTIC. and this is the degree beyond which they fail to hold interest.

  19. Chris_B Says:

    a little comment on the sempai/kohai thing: From what I’ve seen here, most foreign laborers crack after a year or two in a Japanese company. Westerners tend to have the concept of meritocracy too firmly embedded in the lizard brain and have alot of trouble kowtowing to elders who they percieve as having far less skill at the job, etc. Skill is not important in the workplace, getting along with others is.

    The assertion of power by one’s superior comes in lots of ways but is always there. Sometimes it is random criticism or being assigned to do work far below your skill level. This applies just as equally to foreign workers as to locals. I have never been singled out for being a foreigner at work but I have been singled out for being too stuborn. Learning to respect one’s seniors even if their only qualification is they are still sitting at their desk after all this time is the key to success in corporate Japan. I’ve learned that if my superior suggests something, I will follow orders no matter how wrong they are.

  20. Momus Says:

    Some friends of mine sent me this comment. They don’t really want to get involved, and hestitated to post this and possibly offend you, but I think their comment deserves to be heard (apart from the bit about how you should write more about Johnny’s Jimusho!):

    “Yo, a jap here.

    Hey marxy, there are a lot of Japanese people who have the language, and cultural background too. You really seem to be missing the point.

    Machiyama wrote the article because he found the incident unusual, amusing. Nothing more. His point was that there is this strange guy in the company distributing Star Wars, who’s gone overboard, believing he’s got the right and the duty to enforce his bias on writers, while Machiyama thinks that even George Lucas would get upset if he knew what this guy was doing. The article is about an individual with a big head, not a culture of repression.

    “Genkoh check” is something that any publication probably anywhere on earth has. It is to correct facts, not opinions. Of course advertisers will try to exert their influence, and politicians will try to intimidate. A lot of people try to control the press. This is a world full of spin. But the incident isn’t a custom, it isn’t Japanese publishing culture, and trying to make a rule out of it is silly.

    Marxy’s article is vicarious. I think he’s sexed up the data to prove his case. He’s getting so overheated with his chicken little “freedom of speech is restricted Japan!” calls, and it is all just so very FOX TV guilty-until-proven-innocent, “Saddam was behind 9.11” (“or maybe it was all a plot by W and the Saudis?”) overreaching simplicity that we know and love in American media bias. I usually expect more out of him.

    Marxy, there is no such thing as a free press any more than there is democracy but there are checks and balances and people who monitor them to try and get as close as we can. If you want to talk about censorship in Japan, look at things like Johnny’s Jimusho, and their minor’s sex abuse scandals, and how their talento dominate the airwaves and therefore influence the suppression of such information. There is stuff to look out for. But blanket statements that write off all of the good work that a lot of people are doing is not it.

    Cyzo, and Machiyama, are both niche. we call them “subcul-kei”. they could be right, and they could be “tondemo”.

    Although I have his blog on my bookmark, I never imagine that he represents more than just another point of view — just the fact that he linked to marxy’s reference to his own article now and proclaims the whole thing “the incident is now announced to the world!” (my friend wrote me about this link to ask who marxy is, which is what brought me here) tells me he is quite stuck with his own world. This doesn’t dampen my respect for him. I’m still glad to be able to read his essays. I think they’re interesting.

    Let’s refocus the discussion on the lack of good critiques, not the lack of freedom.

    We Japanese have a certain spirit of harmony, and we tend to avoid conflict, but understand (not necessarily agree) with one another and respect (in other words pander to) some kind of consensus. The problem was that this guy did what he thought was good for the film, without confirming it with Lucas. It was not that the publisher had to compromise to their sponsor.

    Knock off the childish arguments about who has the biggest most manly Japanese abilities. The question is how you inform yourself to read between the lines.”

  21. Chris_B Says:

    good thing I had my Typhoon #7 Wading Boots on when I read that one

  22. marxy Says:

    I don’t get automatically offended by opposing opinions, so thanks for posting that.

    The article is about an individual with a big head, not a culture of repression.

    I don’t think it’s about “repression” in that cliche “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down” way. This very well may be an isolated case in the film industry, but I do think it matches what goes on in press clubs, the aforementioned Johnny’s scandals. and general lack of media independence. I think you’re missing the point if you think that I think this is some cultural plot against free speech, whereas I see it as a natural extension of market structures against a backdrop of the media in Japan traditionally not having much independence from the production companies.

    “Genkoh check” is something that any publication probably anywhere on earth has

    Well, there is fact checking where companies call up and check specific facts without showing the entire text. The Japanese practice forces writers to know that the other party will see the piece before publication, which makes a big difference.

    If you want to talk about censorship in Japan, look at things like Johnny’s Jimusho, and their minor’s sex abuse scandals, and how their talento dominate the airwaves and therefore influence the suppression of such information.

    This is exactly what I’m talking about! This is exactly market-based press self-censorship.

    Let’s refocus the discussion on the lack of good critiques, not the lack of freedom

    This is true. I certainly don’t read much good criticism in Japanese magazines.

    Knock off the childish arguments about who has the biggest most manly Japanese abilities.

    Momus has very like-minded friends.

  23. Momus Says:

    Well, there is fact checking where companies call up and check specific facts without showing the entire text. The Japanese practice forces writers to know that the other party will see the piece before publication, which makes a big difference.

    Speaking for myself, as I said before, I do this anyway. I show the entire text. I think it’s not just good manners but crucial. There is always something wrong. And magazines don’t have Comments windows, so you have to get things right before they go to press.

    The “big difference” such practises make is not just in veracity, it’s also in the tone of the article. Just imagine if the bitchy, backstabbing British tabloids did this with their subjects… they’d no longer be anything like as toxic. But in Britain the culture of rudeness replaces politics. People think that because in the House of Commons the leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition is being very rude to the Prime Minister in public, somehow what’s going on is “democracy” and “a healthy airing of differences”. Contention and democracy are not the same thing.

  24. r. Says:

    hey, david…hang on a sec…how do we know this isn’t just another “hisae sez” deal? and even if this “jap” did write something that momus posted here, did someone do a re-write job on it? there seems to be too much of a rapier-like wit about it. suspicious…

  25. Dave Says:

    If you are trying to work out why the jimusho are so successful in suppressing criticism, I suggest you start looking up and down the value chain as well. What are the relationships between the magazine printers and the jimusho? What about magazine distribution? When it comes to advertising, I suggest you probably find out how many companies are around in that, and how purchasing is done (for example, do they buy 15 pages in each magazine over a whole year, and become somebody you can’t afford to piss off, because without it you won’t be able to meet loan repayments?)

    From the way you are saying things, it sounds like the jimusho must be quite cartel-like (or the magazine publishers quite naive) if it’s not possible to just ignore the talent in one jimusho and only publish about what is good in other ones.

  26. r. Says:

    oh, i should also add that momus, in “speaking for” himself, is implying that he is playing is some kind of trump card here, i.e. this HAS to be the perfect foil to anything that MARXY could write, since, after all, he IS japanese! (natch!) of course, we have no choice but to agree with his irrefutable…ethnicity!

    incidentally, i believe that this little bit of sophistry was first identified by the venerable monk 「喉頭」 of the heian period, who presciently labeled it “CJF’s (Captive Japanese Female’s)Razor” the basic premise of which i’m sure you can well imagine.

    this was also telling…

    yo, a jap here sez: Knock off the childish arguments about who has the biggest most manly Japanese abilities.

    and yo, a marxy there be sezin’ (in a very oblique, japanese crit kind of way): Momus has very like-minded friends.

    touche!

  27. Brad Says:

    Nothing much to add to this, except to answer r.’s call to arms. The main reason I hesitate to post my experiences is that I currently work in a foreign company here with a very heavily foreign influenced culture. Few suits, mostly very young people both Japanese and foreign, 30% non-Japanese workforce. Most work done here is done in conjunction with offices in the U.S., U.K. and contractors in Canada and India. So there is a very international culture and as such, there is very little of the typical Japanese work culture bullshit to put up with. I can empathize with Chris_B…how he can put up with it, I’ll never know.

    As a result, I never have any good anecdotes about my superiors giving me a scolding for not delivering their tea on time or some such shit like that. A vast majority of the people that work for the company are out the door at 6PM. If that doesn’t tell you how atypical the place is, nothing will.

  28. Brad Says:

    Though in a way, r., you have to admit, maybe Momus IS more Japanese than we’d like to admit. Because look, he posted this message from a “friend”, right? Well, where is this friend? I don’t know, but I’m sure Momus would insist he exists. How very “Densha otoko”-like! So, I guess we should all be agreeable Japanese consumers and just accept his word for it and even if we suspect it’s fake, we should just happily buy into the lie.

  29. Virginie Lebeau Says:

    Well, if Momus-san is as Japanese as Brad thinks he is, and as gamine as we all know he is, I’d like to pose the following question:

    What would the cultural meaning be of say, coming in Momus’s mouth?

    Personally, I really wish I had an “outie” so I could try and solve this mystery.

  30. Sameer Says:

    Here’s an article dated July 26th about collusion, market power, payola, etc. in the USA music biz

    And see here and here

  31. Momus Says:

    The post is real, not made up and not from Hisae. (Which I realise some of you equate with unreal too, on the assumption that anyone who agrees with me, especially a Japanese person, must be some kind of puppet.) Robert is making a beautiful demonstration of “moronic cynicism” in his posts above. The fact that he didn’t end with a quote from Paul Virilio and a “highest of high fives”, though, makes me suspect that the real Robert is squirming in a corner somewhere, bound and gagged. A victim of one of Japan’s many irrational conspiracies, no doubt. Thank God there are internet conspiracy theorists to tell us all about them, one by one!

  32. marxy Says:

    I don’t generally think Momus’ “friend” posts are fake, seeing that scoring a couple of points here couldn’t possibly be worth the risk of losing all credibility and integrity.

    I think the mystery friends’ opinions are valid criticisms of my original essay, but I think the “single assassin theory” that this is an isolated incident doesn’t make sense seeing that the writers did not publicly object to the stronger editorial control of that “lone” distributor. Had it been an industry or market where the media has more independence, there would have been little tolerance for interference. Was there a cultural pressure to “ignore” this one-time nuisance? Perhaps, but seeing that there are parallels in other Japanese media worlds, I don’t think this is as simple as, everything is just like in the West, except for this one dude distributing Star Wars.

  33. marxy Says:

    I will deal with the Sony payola scandal in another post, but thanks for the link.

    For those who are anti-Johnny’s conspiracists, you should follow the current story that a member of the group “News” was arrested for underage drinking in the company of an older female announcer. All the shukanshi etc have spun the story that she got him drunk and it’s all her fault. In other words, Johnny’s is the victim. While this seems to fit the traditional pattern of Johnny’s being above criticism for just about everything, I do have to say that these magazines love ripping into female “announcers” much more than teenage male talents.

  34. der. Says:

    Now come on. There’s a rare “well you could have a point, Marxy” Momus moment here (amicus ex machina notwithstanding), and you’re all ruining it.

  35. marxy Says:

    Cyzo, and Machiyama, are both niche. we call them “subcul-kei”. they could be right, and they could be “tondemo”.

    I’m not Japanese, and I don’t have full faith and confidence in my own language abilities, but does anyone else out there think the expression “tondemo” is a little odd for a fully native speaker to use. Unless I’m on the wrong track completely, this is a weird way of shortening “tonde mo nai,” which is a slightly odd way of expressing the opposite of “correct.”

  36. a jap Says:

    hello marxy and everyone – a jap here, in tokyo. yes I actually exist…

    well google トンデモ系 for example… it’s a term to call a genre of tondemo-nai (bluffing) stuffs. Shunichi Karasawa made this word up… or made it known anyway.

    I often read negative reviews about films too, either japanese or foreign. I don’t know about cars, but certainly books, music, shows, food… pretty much everything. I guess that’s why I reacted to marxy’s article about machiyama’s, since I thought it was missing the point.

    but there certainly are some strange rules within jap media. typical taboos I find are: Johnny’s, royal family, korea.
    as for the royal family and korea, it’s because we have yakuza lobbyists – it’s like PETA having the power of oil companies.

    talking about conspiracy, does anyone have opinions about Yoshinori Kobayashi?

    Johnny’s case is strange. they act like William Hearst instead of Charlie Chaplin, when what they have is only killer contents, not media structure.
    the good example is “Inagaki member”: like “News” case mentioned above, when Inagaki of Smap was arrested for traffic violation, instead of calling him “Inagaki yougisha (suspect)”, all the TV stations except NHK called him “Inagaki member” even in major news programs! isn’t it a joke?

    by the way marxy – Hiroyuki of 2channel says he met densha-otoko:
    http://www.tanteifile.com/diary/2005/07/14_01/index.html

    my guess is that he does exist… but the whole story is “neta” he wrote. I guess some confirmed it, but didn’t let it go on the media since that’s not what people want to hear…

  37. marxy Says:

    Nice, I’m glad that my ignorance of the word “tondemo-kei” brought you to the table.

    as for the royal family and korea, it’s because we have yakuza lobbyists – it’s like PETA having the power of oil companies.

    I love to throw around the idea of yakuza influence, but isn’t the Royal Family protected mostly by the Imperial Household Agency? Or is it Rightist pressure that makes public criticism of the Emperor nearly impossible?

    all the TV stations except NHK called him “Inagaki member” even in major news programs! isn’t it a joke?

    All the news programs are on TV stations that need Johnny’s talent (or think they need Johnny’s talent) to attract audiences for television shows. I think it’s important to look why this does not prevent similiarly-situated American TV channels from the same reluctancy to talk about the arrest of stars etc. There is a powerful precedent in the West that agencies and production firms have to essentially put up with media criticism or unflattering profiles. They have PR firms to counterbalance the negative, but PR firms rarely can fully control the information flow. Whether that precedent is cultural or market-based, we haven’t quite come to a conclusion, but I don’t think anything resembling Johnny’s could operate like that with such impunity in America. Mostly because we all like destroying our stars just as much as praising them.

    by the way marxy – Hiroyuki of 2channel says he met densha-otoko

    I’m sure he did. I’ve still never seen them in the same room together, though.

  38. a jap Says:

    I love to throw around the idea of yakuza influence, but isn’t the Royal Family protected mostly by the Imperial Household Agency? Or is it Rightist pressure that makes public criticism of the Emperor nearly impossible?

    Imperial Household Agency leads the PR, but nobody will listen to them without Rightists standing behind.
    I guess it’s too much work for a media, to fight against political pressure by established Rights as well as kill-Salman-Rushdie-ish physical pressure by non-established (black sound truck drivers) Rights.

    I’m sure he did. I’ve still never seen them in the same room together, though.

    んー、I won’t trust what he says neither but there certainly is a guy who posted the story, and 2channel could reach him through IP address. The story is a big business now, so I’d think they contacted him to talk about the copyright issues…

  39. marxy Says:

    there certainly is a guy who posted the story, and 2channel could reach him through IP address

    How do we know for certain that there’s a “real guy” behind the story? I thought you believed that Hiroyuki wrote the whole thing? That’s what the rumor is, anyway. I’m not quite sure why magazines aren’t offering LOTS of money for interview scoops with the “real guy” or does he value his privacy over thousands of dollars?

    No matter what everyone else thinks about the importance of train man’s veracity, it would be really embarassing for everyone if it turned out he didn’t exist. Reports of his current love life make the news. The whole Japanese economy is now operating on the fundamental idea of his existence.

  40. Momus Says:

    The whole Japanese economy is now operating on the fundamental idea of his existence.

    Oh no, you mean that if Trainman is shown not to exist, Japan will go into terminal and irreversible decline? Well, can’t someone volunteer to be Trainman, and make the story real? It seems worth it in the circumstances. And I’m sure there are lots of people who met their girlfriend on a train, saved her from a drunk, and talked about it online at some point. Step forward now, you guys, and save Japan!

  41. marxy Says:

    I was making a ha-ha.

  42. marxy Says:

    Speaking of “Densha Otoko” and me being incredibly paranoid, I just checked my website links and saw that people from Dentsu were coming on to my site from their company mailboxes.

    Hello, Dentsu!

  43. Momus Says:

    But your joke was based on a true story, right?

  44. r. Says:

    nick sez: real Robert is squirming in a corner somewhere, bound and gagged. A victim of one of Japan’s many irrational conspiracies, no doubt.

    i say: i actually WAS bound and gagged, but it was completely consensual…i have a くの一 here that’s into that stuff, so…

    “Tomorrow you will all be Negros!”
    – Paul Virilio (quoting James Baldwin quoting some Canadian chick that’s into ramen)

    hi-five for everybody except momus (he gets a lo-five),
    r.

  45. Virginie Lebeau Says:

    If this “r.” is going to go thru all the trouble of insulting my gender, the he at least should get it right! His 「くの一」should be 「くノ一」, right? What a poser!

  46. a jap Says:

    intuition will never be a good reason, but I don’t feel like it was Hiroyuki who wrote it. (I’m a big fan of him, by the way. he’s interesting and ikemen!)
    I was reading the thread at real time (which is a bit embarrasing fact to confess), and I don’t think we could predict it was going to be this big.
    I simply don’t think 2channel or internet is that easy to manipulate.
    I started to read it because some popular blogs wrote about it, like they do all the time. it was just one good thread out of thousands of them.
    but this one became a phenomena – only as a result.
    I will be surprized if it was all set-up by Hiroyuki or Dentsu.
    but once it hit the time, surly ad agencies kicked in and are taking care of the media control now.

    people are having fun with this fantasy anyway…

  47. Chris_B Says:

    Marxy were you making a funny again with the “company mailboxes” bit?

  48. marxy Says:

    Nope. There’s a link from a mailbox at dentsu.co.jp.

  49. guest Says:

    “Imperial Household Agency leads the PR, but nobody will listen to them without Rightists standing behind.”

    Though oddly enough, the Emperor himself doesn’t seem to share the Rightists’ views (the below is one example, there are more):

    http://www.asahi.com/english/politics/TKY200410300158.html

    Or is this just something akin to “plausible deniability?”

  50. marxy Says:

    The great irony here is that the Emperor cannot legally interfere in politics to tell the politicans to stop enforcing greater Emperor worship.

  51. Chris_B Says:

    marxy: I still dont understand what you mean by mailbox in this case. That there dont seem to jive with how things work. Can you email that to me or post it?

  52. guest Says:

    Marxy said: “The great irony here is that the Emperor cannot legally interfere in politics to tell the politicans to stop enforcing greater Emperor worship.”

    Yeah, it’s like he’s getting progressively more tasteless gifts that he can’t refuse: Hinomaru embroidered sweaters, Kurile Islands snow globes, etc.

    “Oh, you shouldn’t have! No, I mean you really shouldn’t have…”

  53. jasong Says:

    This is a diamond in the rough (a very interesting rough, it must be said):

    There is a powerful precedent in the West that agencies and production firms have to essentially put up with media criticism or unflattering profiles. They have PR firms to counterbalance the negative, but PR firms rarely can fully control the information flow. Whether that precedent is cultural or market-based, we haven’t quite come to a conclusion, but I don’t think anything resembling Johnny’s could operate like that with such impunity in America. Mostly because we all like destroying our stars just as much as praising them.

    If you did a full length study on this, I’d definitely download the .pdf Johnny’s empire should die a horrible death.

    Though a lot of the meticulously thought out arguments on here still come across as “I know more about Japan than you do”, I think Momus and Marxy(+sycophants) come up with amazing insights on Japan topics that are rarely discussed in English. Marxy, if you took the best threads and their attendant comments, you might be able to find an American publisher to put it out in book form. Don’t know what kind of 原稿チェック it’d have to go through, though!

    And to “Jap” — do you have your own blog? There can’t be too many bilingual Japanese writers offering an insider’s (yet outsider’s) take on things like the media here. I’d love to read more from your point of view.

    I feel sleepy.

  54. marxy Says:

    I think Momus and Marxy(+sycophants) come up with amazing insights on Japan topics that are rarely discussed in English.

    My main goal with this blog is to discuss issues about Japan rarely getting attention in the mainstream English press. Whether oligopolistic jimushos and a non-critical media are good or bad for Japan is and secondary – I’m just happy to get these ideas out there. To be honest, I’m always surprised that there are enough people interested in these topics to keep the discussion lively.

    And to “Jap” — do you have your own blog?

    Yeah, I’d be very happy to read his/her’s blog.

  55. a jap Says:

    And to “Jap” — do you have your own blog?

    no, though I’ve been trying to have ones for long time – jap/eng separate ones, jap one to write about foreign stuffs, and eng one to write about jap stuffs. I keep notes, but never have enough patience to sit down and put them together…

    I’m always amazed to find some people not only keep writing about what he/she ate (I’m she by the way) but also cultivate them into certain cultural accomplishments.

    btw regarding aida:noda – I’ve heard aida thinks it’s hilarious, but have you heard of nara:asahi story?

    http://images.google.com/images?q=フキゲン&hl=ja&lr=&c2coff=1&client=safari&rls=ja-jp&sa=N&tab=wi

    it was the time when nara (and murakami) was becoming more and more popular outside the art world in japan.
    first, the ad agency contacted nara to design a bottle package for asahi’s new drink. they developed some ideas together, but at certain point nara decided not to do it, and canceled the project.

    several month later this drink “fukigen” came out. everybody outside the art world thought it’s nara’s work. everybody inside the art world thought oh-oh.
    nara was shocked and contacted the agency, and they said “oh well, but it’s nothing to do with you now”.

    as far as I know, nara’s gallery did not sue them in this case – I guess they forsaw too much lawsuit bills for not enough restitution. I heard the poor artist was devastated…

  56. jasong Says:

    no, though I’ve been trying to have ones for long time – jap/eng separate ones, jap one to write about foreign stuffs, and eng one to write about jap stuffs. I keep notes, but never have enough patience to sit down and put them together…

    Even if it’s messy, you should start one anyway. It would be unique in the world of Japan-based blogs, I’m sure.

    (I’m she by the way)

    Even better…Your first name wouldn’t happen to begin with ‘S’ would it?

    I’m always amazed to find some people not only keep writing about what he/she ate…

    There should be bylaw.

  57. marxy Says:

    Your first name wouldn’t happen to begin with ‘S’ would it?

    Even I figured out who this is. It’s impossible to stay anonymous on the Internet if you keep talking.